Many thanks to the fabulous Thundera Tiger for a wonderful beta job on this piece, and to the members of HoF for their encouragement and input! You all rock!
By Nieriel Raina
The pouch was small, held closed with a leather thong drawstring. With special care, he tugged it open and reached inside to brush his fingers against the grey pebble, the scrap of wool cloth and the remains of a blue feather. An ache welled up from his chest and caught in his throat as his eyes blurred. Seeing his treasures again only brought back the memories as clear as they had ever been.
Legolas swallowed hard and gently retied the pouch closed, then stood with it clenched in his hand as he debated where to place it. On the bed before him were two piles of items: one he had designated as 'keep' and it climbed higher as he added more and more items to it. The other he had mentally labeled 'leave behind' and was much smaller than it should have been.
His grip on the pouch tightened as he glanced between the two piles. He really did not need the items to remember, did he? They would only take up space better used for…for… Well, he was certain there would be something more practical and important to take up the space. With reluctance, he loosened his grip and laid the pouch in the much smaller pile, only to snatch it back up the moment it had left his fingers.
Feeling foolish at his behavior, while at the same time cradling the treasure against his chest, Legolas searched the larger heap for some item that might go into the 'leave behind' pile in the pouch's stead. But he had already gone through this process with each of those items, and could not part with any of them. Blowing out a frustrated sigh, he laid the pouch in the 'keep' pile before turning to the next item for his sorting ritual.
A curse upon mortals and their influence on the lives of the Eldar!
It really was all their fault, those mortals that had so influenced his life. He would not have nearly so much junk accumulated in his rooms if not for them. But neither would he have the treasure trove of memories that accompanied each useless jewel he had collected, from yellowed letters to a chipped axe to the smelly, dried out leather surcoat that had seen many years of wear in the wilds.
Set haphazardly around the room, small mountains of treasures still awaited sorting. A stranger would look at these piles and see only junk, but Legolas saw the lives of those mortal friends who had touched his existence, made it more than it would have been and then taken a piece of his heart with them when they crossed the circles of the world, leaving him behind to face a life without them.
Curse the fates that divide us!
He lifted a stack of drawings, his hands trembling as he thumbed through them, remembering each scene, the people in them, and the laughter and joy they had shared. His chest cramped again with the familiar ache as another lump rose in his throat. The cursed moisture filled his eyes and made his head hurt. His breathing increased, catching with the emotions that coursed through him. He set the pages of parchment into the 'keep' pile.
Closing his eyes, he took a moment to get his emotions back under control. He could not sort everything if he became as emotional as a woman with everything he picked up. Finding his calm, he opened his eyes and was faced once more with the decision of what to take and what to leave behind. Just how many tangible memories did one person keep, and how many should be left to just song? He had been sorting the miscellaneous paraphernalia for the better part of two days, but it seemed every time he moved an item to the pile he had designated as 'leave behind', it had only taken moments before his heart rate had become a quick staccato and his breathing had become gasps as he fought the rising emotions that twisted and pulled inside him.
Even now his fingers itched to take back the broken carving of a horse that he had so painfully placed in the small pile. No! It had been too hard to put it there. If he touched it or anything else in that pile, he would never get rid of anything!
"It's just you and me on that boat of yours, Elf."
Legolas jumped at the sound of the gravelly voice, one hand reaching for a weapon that he was not carrying. He had not heard anyone approach and it only revealed how absorbed he was in his emotional battle. Wide-eyed, he turned to stare at the dwarf in the doorway.
Years had marked Gimli in the way that they only did when time was short for a dwarf. The thick, auburn hair had become first peppered with grey, thinning as the red receded to make room for the finer silver tresses. The stocky frame was slimmer, frailer, and Gimli used a stick when he walked to ease his aching knees.
Legolas turned back to the accumulated memories, not wanting to see the truth of his friend's mortality so vividly at the moment. If he kept his back to the dwarf, he could overlook the new warble in the familiar voice and pretend his friend was the same as the day they first set out from Rivendell so many years prior.
"Your point, Gimli?" There was a purposeful edge to his voice. He needed a good fight, anything to draw his attention from what he did not wish to face.
Instead, he heard the shuffle of feet, the thump of a stick and a sigh as Gimli settled in a chair. Legolas's shoulders drooped. Gimli did not rise to the bait as he once would have. Or perhaps the dratted dwarf had gotten wiser with his years and had some gem of insight to share.
"Your point?" he asked again, this time in a defeated tone.
"Bring it all."
Legolas blinked. He looked about the room again. He had placed all his mementos in this room as he packed his clothes and various needful items, thinking he would sort these last. It had piled up. That should not surprise him; when living near mortals, an elf could accumulate quite a hoard of treasures in a couple hundred years. At least he had.
"I do not need all of this," he admitted, sinking to the floor with his back against the bed. He let his eyes slip shut as he drew up his legs and pressed his forehead to his knees.
"Sure you do," came Gimli's gruff insistence. "At least for now you do. Take it. There is no reason not to. That boat of yours is plenty big enough. If once you arrive in the West, you find you do not need it, then you can dispose of it. But better to take it than regret leaving it here, Legolas. And you would."
Why was the dwarf always right? He turned his head and let his eyes slit open as he gazed up at his old friend. Old. Gimli looked it now, but Legolas did not dwell upon the age marking his friend's face and beard. He focused instead on the issue at hand, a trick he had learned in recent years to help him get through the pain of each loss, one moment at a time if need be, as loved one after loved one passed beyond his reach.
Glancing about at his treasures, he pondered what Gimli had said. And as he considered it, he realized that, as usual, Gimli was right. Truly, it was not that much. He could pack it carefully into three or four crates.
His mind already moving to how he would pack the items, he realized the weight of emotion that had been choking him as he made each decision had lifted. He no longer felt torn, as if he were leaving more of himself behind than he was taking. He glanced back at his friend, who was contemplating him with a knowing smile. Yes, he would take it all, even the dwarf.
"Thank you, Gimli."
"You're welcome, Elf."